You probably spent at least some of this past summer engaged in warm-weather pursuits. But Jeff Carroll spent the heat of summer deep in the throes of ... Christmas?
Yes, while you were spending leisure time at the beach or playing tennis, Carroll was assembling the 12 tracks that make up "Have a Holly Raleigh KIDSmas" (Sir Walter Records). It's the fourth volume of the "Holly Raleigh" series and a recurrent labor of love for Carroll, the proprietor of Bluefield Mastering Studio in Raleigh.
Past "Holly Raleigh" volumes have been all over the map, with original Christmas songs from soundtrack star Vaughan Penn, newscaster Bill Leslie, venerable gospel group Capitol City Five, Norteño hitmaker Rey Norteño and a passel of rock bands including Rosebuds, Schooner, Cartridge Family and Killer Filler.
This year's model has the added wrinkle of being a children's record. Contributors include Mommie, A Rooster for the Masses, The Beast and Proclivities, among others.
At least, after four years, these records are getting easier to pull together. Right?
"I thought they would get easier," Carroll sighs. "But no. It can be like pulling teeth, and I did start asking for songs earlier this year. In fact, I'm already asking for next year right now. But if a song is good, it's good. When it's not the holidays, I don't hear the music when I'm working on it and think, 'This doesn't feel right.' Some of the bands might go through that, but I don't. The song my band did for the record, I think I wrote that in April and it felt like just another rock song."
The genesis of "KIDSmas" goes back to 2007's second "Holly Raleigh" volume, which featured a song from singer/songwriter Anthony Neff called "To Believe."
Neff told Carroll that he had another seasonal tune, a kid-friendly, sing-song number called "P-E-A-C-E." That got Carroll and his cohorts thinking about devoting a future "Holly Raleigh" volume to children's songs, and this was the year.
Mommie, Connells singer Doug MacMillan's children's-music project, was a natural choice. Mommie's "Santa Claus Is Strong" opens the album, and Neff's "P-E-A-C-E" is track No. 2. Other highlights include "One Wish This Christmas" by Carroll's own group, the Desmonds; volume-one contributors Rosebuds returning with "I Hear (Click, Click, Click)"; and The Beast's "The Black Candle," a hip-hop track that is also the first "Holly Raleigh" song about the African-American seasonal holiday Kwanzaa.
Carroll grew up listening to holiday albums by the Beach Boys and Elvis Presley, and he's always been a big fan of Christmas music. But as he has discovered, not everyone feels the same way. Persuading bands to do Christmas songs can be a tall order - and this year, persuading them to do Christmas songs for kids was even harder.
"I had to explain that this is kids' music, but not toddlers' music," Carroll says. "I'd tell bands to make it adult-friendly, as much as they could. Just do what you normally do, but maybe change the lyrics a bit."
Not surprisingly, Mommie was one group that had no trouble getting into the spirit of the project. "Santa Claus Is Strong" glides along with a catchy guitar hook and pedal-steel accents, complementing a "Polar Express"-style lyric about believing in St. Nick.
With the other bands, at least Carroll had the selling point of a good cause. "Holly Raleigh" proceeds go to the Community Music School ( msraleigh.org), which provides one-on-one musical instruction to underprivileged youth.
Carol Walborn, the organization's executive director, puts the project's 2008 contribution at more than $8,000. That's a nice boost to the school's annual budget of $100,000.
"It's always been a great way for people to get involved with Community Music Schools, and to help local musicians," says Walborn. "So it's good all the way around."